The locker room at the Brooklyn YMCA was cruisier than usual. Whitney Houston’s funeral was playing on the TV. At first, only the locker room attendants gathered around. Hard-faced black and brown men, who rarely showed emotions, didn’t care who saw them today—their eyes wet. Whitney was someone’s mother, sister, daughter, high school crush, and lover. Whitney was a friend from the neighborhood, a girl made good. Attention must be paid.
Normally the sound of the Attendant’s walkie-talkies would crackle through the locker room. Today there was radio silence, allowing the sound of mourning to carry through the lockers, into the saunas, around the corner and into the showers. Lament was everywhere. Desire followed.
Some guys, fresh from the shower sauntered over to the TV. Wet white bellies dripped water, heads shook in recognition. Celebrities eulogized. Brown broad shoulders quivered at sermons. “Is Bobby there?” a high-pitched voice asked, red-faced from his work out. “ He will be,” a deep voice promised. The crowd around the TV ebbed and flowed, but the attendants stood watch the whole time.
Any other day a fast blowjob in the showers, or a quick jack off in the sauna would be an indulgence in the physical, a borrowed piece of flesh. Today was different. A few years ago, a locker room attendant sued the gym after he walked in the sauna and saw two men having sex. He told the Court it traumatized him, that he no longer felt safe at work. It created a division between the attendants, and the clients who knew about the case. There was confusion, and a reordering of the hierarchy of oppressions.
Between the guys who cruise each other, the lawsuit gets whispered around; as bait, as warning. It works and it works. Sex continues, now with one eye towards who is coming.
But not today. Today nothing had to be quick; nothing had to stay rooted in the pretense of urge. Mouths lingered, eyes stayed closed, arms worked slower, chests stayed pressed, and hands relaxed. Today was not about getting off without getting caught. It was about being together. Whitney provided a cover, diverting attention elsewhere. She created a cause for us to want more from each other, to allow emotions to show. A woman like us had died, alone in the bath, survival instincts shot. A half eaten turkey sandwich just in reach. Attention must be paid.
A friend tried to shame me into caring so much about Whitney’s death when millions of people die every day from the gluttony of a system that privileges stars like her. My friend is not wrong. There is something sick but our daily ambivalence to other people’s suffering. But there is no shame in mourning Whitney. Lamenting her passing, is about other people’s pain, and our own. Whitney is the projected creation of our lives. Why was her cracked out Vegas hotel room tabloid fodder? Because that downfall is ours, if success, and circumstance had allowed. Why was her relationship with Bobby followed with such fever, because we have loved wrong too and wanted it back bad.
“ You think I am crying for Whitney?” I said, “Than your a dammed fool.”
In the YMCA shower I kissed a stranger long and hard, our wet bodies slid through and past each other, because life is short and we were together. Because else our desire is disrespected, our bodies questioned, and what we do with them held as suspect. His warm breath in my mouth, his ass in my hands was a tribute to the living, a connection to the dead, and a declaration that something better is possible.
For twenty hot minutes, as the choir sang, and Whitney’s life was celebrated, I rejoiced in my life, sharing it with a man I might never see again.